This past weekend, Melissa & I made the nine hour drive from Raleigh to Lexington, KY where we met my Sister and Brother-in-law, Celeste & Dwayne, and Dad & Joan for the much-anticipated Carolina vs. Kentucky weekend. We met at the Lexington Double Tree where, despite making reservations months earlier, we were unceremoniously placed in smoking rooms. The kind of smoking rooms you can smell the moment the elevator door opens on your floor, some fifty yards away, and which reeks with a maloderous, penetrating tenacity only exceeded by fetid, beer-soaked college dive bars in the dilatory minutes right before closing on Friday nights. I didn’t even know there were still smoking rooms anymore! I’ve spent upwards of 2,000 nights in hotel rooms over the past ten years and I couldn’t even tell you the last time I encountered a hotel that allowed smoking – especially an “upper middle” category hotel like the Double Tree. But after some light finagling with the front desk, we were graciously switched into non-smoking rooms at the expense of some poor S.O.B., likely a fellow Gamecock fan, who had been slated for those rooms but had not arrived yet. At any rate, the six of us gathered at the hotel bar for an innuagural libation prior to heading off to a nice dinner at the Chop House.
Saturday morning after breakfast Melissa & I found a wonderful greenway – the Legacy Trail – where we did our requisite long run for the week, a nine miler along the rolling Kentucky hill country north of town and up toward the Kentucky Horse Park. It was one of those precious few perfect days – maybe one of fifty or so we get in an average year – where the sky is a brilliant, cloudless blue, the temperature hovers at around 72 with a gentle breeze that seems to know just when you need it, coming at the top of a hill or during a long, sunny stretch but lying dormant in the already cool shady spots. The scenery was gorgeous and faded steadily from metro Lexington into horse pastures and bluegrass as we made our way out to the 4.5 mile mark where we turned around. It was one of those ideal runs you get every so often when you feel strong and genuinely savor each mile – we soaked in the October sun on our faces, running mostly in a comfortable, contented silence, pondering the upcoming football game and realizing how fortunate we were to be able to be there at that very moment in time.
By the time we made it back to the hotel, showered and dressed it was time to meet the others and make our way over to the stadium for a little tailgating prior to the game. Dwayne had smartly and proactively purchased a parking pass for a lot no more than a hundred yards from the stadium earlier in the day and so as we rolled into the parking lot in his garnet Ford pickup, Gamecock flags flying, we got quite a few looks from the legion of blue-clad Kentucky loyalists and endured a few chants of “cock-sucker” from the already inebriated college kids. Dwayne had thoughtfully remembered to pack his 10×10 tailgating tent, which provided a nice bit of shade, though it was the unfortunate and unintended color of Kentucky Blue, which caused a bit of confusion for those around us as we sat beneath it munching fried chicken and sipping bourbon, all six of us clad in garnet & black.
By 5:15 or so we made the short walk to Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium where we took our seats in one of the upper decks and awaited kickoff. Carolina came out like a house afire, scoring two quick touchdowns and shutting down Kentucky on their initial attempts, looking every bit the tenth-ranked team in the country. By halftime USC was up 28-10 and everyone – especially the long-suffering Kentucky fans (who are even longer suffering than Carolina fans) expected a runaway win by the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, Kentucky reeled off 21 unanswered points in the second half for a gut-wrenching 31-28 victory – the first against South Carolina since the Clinton administration and the first in 18 tries against Steve Spurrier. So long top ten!
We made it back to the hotel after midnight and said our goodbyes in the lobby as Dad & Joan and Celeste & Dwayne would be on the road earlier than we would on Sunday.
Sunday’s drive was a thoroughly enjoyable one, despite the outcome of the game the night before. We picked up a book on cd – a detective novel whose title and author I cannot recall, but which helped pass the time as we made the drive back south toward Raleigh. Driving through Southwestern Virginia, the views – even from the interstate – were breathtaking. It made me yearn to strap on my old hiking boots and backpack and wander off on the nearest footpath. We made plans to do just that sometime next year after all of this Iron Man madness is behind us.
We made it back into Raleigh by 7pm, had a quick dinner at Bonefish and were back home by 8:15 or so. Monday we were gone our separate ways – Melissa on a business trip to Bloomington and me to work in Wilmington for the week. It was a great weekend and could have only been improved by a Gamecock win. However, as hard life experience has taught me, you sure as hell can’t count on that, so you better find your fun and contentment in ways you can actually control. I think we did an admirable job of that.
Thanks to a particularly down year in the SEC East, Carolina is still in 1st place, despite the rare loss to Kentucky. Hopefully they’ll bounce back at Vandy this week. Until then, Go Cocks!